DURHAM, N.C. – Quarterback Anthony Boone returned to the field and had a career passing day for the Duke Blue Devils in a 35-7 win over the Navy Midshipmen at Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.
Boone (31-38, 295 yards, 3 TD’s) had not played in a game since being injured during the Blue Devils’ 28-14 road win over the Memphis Tigers on Sept. 7, but finished the game posting career-high numbers in completions, attempts, and total passing yards.
The Duke defense led by Justin Foxx (8 tackles), Jeremy Cash (7 tackles, 1 INT), Kenny Anunike (7 tackles), and David Helton (7 tackles), effectively contained Navy’s rushing offense, ranked eighth in the country and averaging 294 yards coming in, to only 230 yards and allowing the Midshipmen to score only one touchdown.
Backup and utility quarterback Brandon Connette, who had taken the offensive reins during the Mempis game and for the next three while Boone recovered, did not play against Navy after injuring his ankle following practice on Thursday.
During those games, the wildcat quarterback threw 70-of-109 completions for 967 yards and nine TD’s while rushing 56 times for 202 yards and five touchdowns, and gave Boone enough time to recover before returning in an such impressive fashion.
Interestingly enough, Boone did not know that he would start the game until about 10 minutes before kickoff.
“First of all, a tremendous performance by Anthony Boone,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said.
“He found out he was starting the same time I did. Brandon Connette on Thursday, after a walk-through, jogging back inside, got tangled up and fell and messed his ankle up pretty good. He was able to practice yesterday and we thought, ‘okay, that’s encouraging’, but it got worse. He was over here early this morning at six o’clock, we brought him over from the hotel, and got a bunch of treatment on it and he moved around just okay on it during the pregame warm-up. I know how tough Brandon Connette is and he comes to us and says, ‘I can’t go, I can’t play’. A pretty amazing performance from Anthony to find out right at the end of pregame warm-up that he was startin’, so that’s how that happened.”
From the opening series of downs, it looked as though Boone would march the Blue Devils down the field for a quick score, but the Navy defense denied him a chance to convert on fourth-and-one with a foot to go as he took a loss of two yards on the play.
From there, both teams traded possessions as Navy’s running offense began to peck away at the Duke defense while the Blue Devils tried to match it with their own offensive output accordingly.
After a scoreless first quarter, both teams had racked up only 153 total yards between them along with a lot of grass and mud in their cleats from the wet playing conditions.
Navy had the best chance to score first but missed on two field goal attempts early in the second quarter.
After being called for a false start, the Midshipmen lined up the kick again 5 yards further back, but kicker Nick Sloan still managed to miss the kick from the 29-yard line, sending it wide and to the right.
From there, Boone guided the Duke offense down the field on a 12-play, 80-yard series that ended when he connected on a 27-yard passing play to record his first touchdown pass of the season to wide receiver Isaac Blakeney (5 catches, 57 yards, 2 TD’s).
After kicker Ross Martin (5-5) converted the first of five PAT’s in the game, the Blue Devils led 7-0 with 9:35 to play in the first half.
It didn’t take Navy long to even the scores as the Midshipmen moved the ball efficiently back up the field on a five-play, 75-yard series of their own to even the score 7-7 with 7:49 to play.
It would be the only time they would catch the defense off-guard according to Duke linebacker Kelby Brown (4 tackles).
“It was really three big plays,” Brown said.
“It was actually the same play each time, so we didn’t get a chance to adjust to it until after that series. After that we shut that play down. We didn’t let it phase us. We just made adjustments and kept movin’.”
Powered by impressive runs from Josh Snead (7 rushes, 35 yards) that put Duke into the red zone, Boone connected on an impressive isolation pass play with Max McCaffrey (3 catches, 29 yards, 1 TD) in the corner of the end zone to put the Blue Devils ahead once again, 14-7.
With less than two minutes to play in the half, when it looked as though the Midshipmen were trapped at midfield with a third-and-20 to go, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds found a receiver to gain the first down.
However, as much as the Duke defense gave Navy on the play, they took it right back as Anunike leveled Reynolds for a sack on a second-and-goal play while Brown recovered the fumbled ball to end the half with Duke still leading 14-7.
Coming out for the third quarter, Duke’s defense made another strong stand against the Navy offense and allowed Boone and wide receivers Jamison Crowder (10 catches, 88 yards) and Braxton Deaver (3 catches, 54 yards) to keep moving the chains towards the goal line until Blakeney caught and ran an 18-yard pass into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game.
Following another effective defensive stand, the Blue Devils’ offensive play calls showcased Boone’s aerial work as two quick strikes of 21 and nine yards successively to Deaver gave Duke favorable field position at the Navy 42-yard line.
From there Jela Duncan (9 rushes, 48 yards, 1 TD) put in numerous reps (5 rushes, 33 yards) during the series to eventually score Duke’s fourth touchdown of the game, and extend the lead to 28-7 with 3:42 to play in the quarter.
Cash then made an interception with 41 seconds to play and gave the Blue Devils another exceptional ball placement on the Navy 33-yard line to begin the fourth quarter.
After two downs, the Blue Devils’ coaching staff was facing third-and-one on the 17-yard line, and subsequently sent the kicking unit onto the field.
On the ensuing snap, placeholder Will Monday initiated a faked field goal play by shoveling a pass forward to Blakeney for a six-yard gain and first down.
Following a few more plays, freshman running back Shaquille Powell then ran the ball into the end zone to score his first career touchdown and put Duke further ahead 35-7 with 12:36 to play.
For the remainder of the game, both teams would trade scoreless possessions while allowing Duke to secure its fourth win of the season.
“I think at this point, that’s the best game that we’ve probably played as a team since we’ve been at Duke,” Cutcliffe said.
“Our guys played a very clean football game. I knew they would play hard, but we consistently played clean.”